While hospitals around the country prepare for Ebola, officials with the Mississippi Department of Health said the flu is more of a threat to Mississippians than Ebola.
There have been no reported cases of Ebola in the state, according to a spokesperson with the department.
“It’s highly unlikely that we will have anyone (with Ebola) in Mississippi,” Liz Sharlot, a MDH spokesperson, said Monday. “We’re actually more concerned about flu right now. While we’re preparing for any Ebola situation, it’s more likely that people will get the flu and die than will be exposed to Ebola here in Mississippi.”
Still, local hospitals are taking action.
Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle and Oktibbeha County Hospital are taking steps to prepare their staffs, as well as protect the public.
“For the past several months, we have been preparing and updating plans, educating staff and refining protocols in case a potential Ebola patient comes to any of our facilities,” said Dr. Mark Swanson, chief medical officer for Baptist Memorial Health Care. “We are closely monitoring the situation and will adjust our plans as we learn more and as (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations change. We routinely conduct and participate in drills to test our response to emergency situations and to ensure we are prepared to treat patients in any situation.”
At OCH, the staff is preparing the emergency department, as well as considering a potential quarantine area for patients who exhibit Ebola symptoms.
“OCH is preparing for the initial steps in screening, identifying, and isolating someone who might be infected with Ebola,” said Kim Roberts, infection control manager at OCH. “We are considering ways to keep suspected Ebola patients in separate areas, away from other patients and healthcare activities.”
Roberts said while OCH is preparing for the potential of a patient with Ebola, the hospital is not equipped to provide long-term care.
“In learning about how the disease progresses, and the amount of body fluids involved in the later stages of Ebola management, we recognize that we would not be able to handle someone in the advanced stages of Ebola virus disease,” she said. “The staffing and equipment required are beyond the capabilities of our facility. Our focus is on managing a patient in the initial stages of infection, while they are being tested and evaluated…It might take up to three days to get full results of testing. If someone is eventually confirmed to have Ebola, we would coordinate with the State Department of Health and the CDC to determine the most appropriate place for them to be transferred.”
Roberts said OCH has screened patients for symptoms but has not seen a patient that met the case definition for Ebola.
Hospital staff recently received training on how to check for symptoms of Ebola and wear protective gear, Roberts said.
Noting the situation in Dallas, where two nurses were infected with Ebola after treating a patient with the disease, Roberts said OCH would keep a close eye on their staff.
“The cautionary tales from Dallas taught the importance of keeping healthcare workers under close observation, so they can be monitored, in case they develop symptoms of infection,” she said.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Ebola is a treatable disease and they are working diligently with hospitals around the nation to identify potential patients.
“We recognize that Ebola in the United States seems threatening, but the simple truth is that we do know how to stop Ebola from spreading,” said Benjamin Haynes, Senior Press Officer with the CDC’s Infectious Disease Team. “We have experts on the ground working with state and local colleagues and we’ve been working with the hospital to make sure that they have appropriate detection and control measures that stay in place. We’ve also been redoubling our effort to correctly identify and deal with Ebola patients.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 319 million people in the U.S. As of press time Tuesday, two people had been infected with Ebola in the country.
Roberts said that while she understands the public’s concern, healthcare officials are managing the situation.
“Right now, the public should not be panicking about Ebola,” she said. “I understand the heightened anxiety among healthcare workers, especially after two healthcare providers were infected in Dallas. A patient in the early phases of the illness is not as infectious as someone with advanced disease. Also, someone who is highly infectious is unlikely to be traveling or participating in activities outside the home.”
Roberts said the public’s fear of Ebola has gotten ahead of the actual risk.
“The medical community is working diligently, somewhat behind the scenes, to bolster Ebola preparedness in hospitals,” she added.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.